March 20, 2013

Adults Failed the NECAP...What Does It Mean?

Patrick Laverty

According to Kim Kalunian's story on, 30 out of 50 of the adult test takers received a score that wouldn't allow them to graduate from high school. At least on the first try.

However, what does that tell us? Does the correlation say that these people who scored poorly will not be a success in life? Well, I guess that depends on your definition of success. One might question whether being elected to the General Assembly is a "success."

But one of the troubling parts is when State Representatives like Larry Valencia and Teresa Tanzi come out with quotes that can be construed by the high school students to mean that the test should not be important. Valencia was quoted:

"I was good at math. I took trig, statistics, pre-calculus. I have a degree in chemistry. I think the test is very unfair. It doesn’t represent what the average high school student should know."
Ok, so Rep. Valencia thinks the questions are irrelevant. Has he gone around to ask high school math teachers what they think of the questions on the test? How about the committee that creates the questions? Or are his statements a little less-informed?

Also, Representative Teresa Tanzi said:

“As one of the many capable and relatively accomplished participants who scored ‘substantially below proficient’ on this exercise, I do believe this points to a problem with our state’s new diploma system.”
Problem with the diploma system? Any rational person can construe those remarks to mean that she doesn't think the test should be a requirement for graduation. At least, that is one of the points that the Providence students were trying to make with this event.

The question that I have here is whether people think there should be a minimum set of requirements in mathematics and reading comprehension in order to earn a high school diploma.

And don't forget about this little fact:

In 2010, over 60% of recent high school graduates enrolled at CCRI must be placed in remedial courses; most of these students will not earn a degree.
Our students are failing the NECAP and CCRI is telling us that our high school graduates need remedial work to even take a normal college workload. Yet, we have students and state legislators downplaying the importance of the NECAP. It would seem that the NECAP is at least a minimal indicator of student readiness for college-level work.

Yes, something is broken in Rhode Island's education system, but I really don't think the problem is with the NECAP requirement to graduate. Maybe the problem is with the teaching and/or learning.

In yesterday's GoLocalProv, there was an article about a student who didn't pass the math portion of the test on her first try. She felt she wasn't prepared by her school in Coventry for the questions on the test:

"We had a math packet in the summertime to go over and it wasn’t counted as a test or a quiz, it was an optional thing that you had to do,” she said. “I did it but on that little packet, I didn’t understand any of it. There was nothing about Algebra on the packet, there was only stuff about Geometry and there wasn’t anything you had to solve, it was all multiple choice questions.”

Gobin says her school went over the packet on the second day of class and then shifted its focus to Algebra II exclusively. When she took the test, she said, it included trigonometry and other subjects that her class is just getting to now, five months after the NECAPs were administered.

If all of that is true, that's a failure of the curriculum at the school. If the state's board of education and other leaders feel the questions on the test are relevant for students to know at the time of the test, then the school should adequately prepare the students for the test.

As many have now said, the best thing to come of all this is that people are aware of it and talking about it. There should be no quick and easy answers. We've known for some time that education in Rhode Island was falling behind and needed to be fixed. Maybe now with this new spotlight, we can find the true causes and get to work on fixing them.

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Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the test that the adults took was actually just a portion of the problems on the actual test, presumably chosen because they were particularly difficult. If this was the case, then the scores the adults received on the test are totally irrelevant to anything.

Posted by: Dan at March 20, 2013 1:22 PM

"If all of that is true, that's a failure of the curriculum at the school. If the state's board of education and other leaders feel the questions on the test are relevant for students to know at the time of the test, then the school should adequately prepare the students for the test."

Yes, the wisdom of the central planners. And out the window goes the oft repeated promise that curriculum would not be changed (dumbed down) to teach to the test. Campbell's Law anyone?

Posted by: Russ at March 20, 2013 1:30 PM

Russ - I'm just curious - why do you oppose central planning in school curriculum but you support it for the purpose of government picking winners and losers in the local economy? Is the progressive "experts in a room" model of public policy valid, or isn't it?

Posted by: Dan at March 20, 2013 1:44 PM

Gotta love the chutzpah of Rhode Island legislators, i.e. it's not reasonable to expect anyone to know more than I do!

Posted by: Andrew at March 20, 2013 1:45 PM

These legislators show exactly the disconnect that exists between GA members and the real world. They draw conclusions about things with almost no information and will cling to their beliefs to the detriment of everyone. Just listen to the tsunami of ignorance that floods through the chambers when they try to debate issues! Back to my old Tarzan quote, "Why people stay?"

Posted by: John at March 20, 2013 2:01 PM

Was just pointing that out to you since you normally oppose this kind of thing.

I actually don't think "central planning" is the problem. I just think in this case they're running in the wrong direction, one not likely to lead to improvement in student performance or in the quality of educators. I could image a coordinated approach that I would support.

Posted by: Russ at March 20, 2013 2:01 PM

My daughter attended a school that was highly lauded two years ago for their significant progress in improving their NECAP scores...the reason...highly increased focus by the faculty at teaching specifically to the tests. Nice, right? Not for the students who had to sit through weeks and weeks of instruction on concepts for which they were already proficient. I think Standardized testing has it's merits and may be appropriate for benchmarking purposes but as a graduation standard? I think it has some unintended consequences. I'm admitedly not an educator, just an involved parent. JTR

Posted by: JTR at March 20, 2013 4:13 PM

JTR, I think that's what we can teaching to the least common denominator. So the poor kids who are prepared get to waste valuable time waiting for the teachers (and the rest of the class) to catch up to them. Who wins? NO ONE!

Oh sorry, Gist gets her doctorate based on her great RI experiment.

Posted by: John at March 20, 2013 5:53 PM

Here's my take on this:

A bunch of liberal RI "community leaders" can't pass a math test.

Is that such a shock?

Looked at the state of RI's economy lately?

Let's turn the tables . . . put a bunch of high school juniors in charge of RI for a week . . . could they do any worse running things than the folks who sat for the test have done?

Posted by: brassband at March 20, 2013 7:00 PM

The liberal answer to the lack of proficiency among our high school students is to dumb down the standards and give the teachers a big raise along with free reign and no accountability. Sounds like a plan.

Posted by: Max D at March 20, 2013 7:50 PM

Did you see the list of "adults" who took this test??
Just confirms what we've always known.
Like shootin' fish in a barrel
Too too funny.

Posted by: Tim at March 20, 2013 11:21 PM

Perhaps e can make passing this test a requirement to be a state representative. Please.

Posted by: Mike at March 21, 2013 9:01 PM
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